How cross training can make you a better runner

Add cross training into your fitness routine and transform your running. Our resident coach offers the following expert tips.

How cross training can make you a better runner

Do you pick up injuries easily when you increase the miles? Or perhaps your fitness has plateaued and you are looking for a way to break through to the next level? If the answer to these questions is yes, then it might be time to consider cross training. 

Cross training has increasingly become a key part of training plans set by some of the best coaches in the world as runners seek effective ways to train around busy work and social lives.

What is cross training?

Cross training basically refers to non-running training that supports a runner’s main training plan. It can refer to both your core, strength and conditioning exercises but also cardiovascular cross training – training to work your heart and lungs without actually going for a run.

What are the options?

From a static bike or turbo trainer, to spin classes and road biking, swimming and aqua jogging, the elliptical trainer and rower, right the way through to hill walking and cross country skiing, there are a number of options for getting your heart rate up and lungs burning.

What are the benefits?

There are numerous benefits to including cross training into your training week:

Big impact 

Cross training can help develop a runner’s cardiovascular fitness by increasing training volumes while also limiting the impact on joints and already heavily stressed muscles.

Transitional times 

Cross training can really come into its own when returning from injury. By including a period of cross training mixed with a gradual progression in volume, runners can limit their likelihood of re-injury.

Stronger, faster 

Certain types of cross training mimic the running action but with additional resistance (e.g. aqua jogging) so it can help to strengthen key running muscle groups.

The spice of life 

Your body adapts to training very quickly, so cross training can both add interest and variety to your fitness regime. As most forms of cross training are lower impact than running, you might find you can increase the volume of higher intensity training you do each week, which will supercharge your fitness gains.

How to do it?

  • If you have a running plan which you have developed in either perceived effort or to certain specific heart rates it is easy to convert blocks of running training directly into sessions on cross training equipment, replicating the effort you would have done if out for a run.
  • Focus on cross training that replicates the physical demands of running. While dynamic, multi-directional sports such as football can work different muscle groups and add some interest they are not specific to endurance sport and can increase injury risk if included around hard long runs or other running sessions.
  • To replicate an easy run focus on lower impact activities that promote a consistent heart rate. Swimming, aqua-jogging, and road biking can be great options for easy or recovery sessions. Even walking can be a great for the less experienced runner.
  • Instead of a speed session, try cross training that will allow you heart rate to get high enough to stress 85%+ of maximum heart rate. Many runners find this is possible with aqua-jogging but the ergo (rowing machine) can also be a fantastic option for working in interval sessions with blocks of between 30 seconds and 4 minutes of sustained, harder effort.
  • To replicate running sessions from 10K up to marathon effort, runners should focus on activities that mimic the running action. The elliptical trainer can be fantastic for big blocks of effort at marathon heart rate or lactate threshold. Aqua-jogging again can be useful, but runners need to be aware there heart rate will often be between 5-10 beats a minute lower than for their equivalent running session.
  • Most runners rush back too soon after a marathon or key race. Cross training, particularly easy endurance sessions, can be fantastic to include in the 2-6 week recovery period post marathon to gradually increase training volumes without stressing muscles that are still healing and recovering.

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